Offseason decisions can have long-lasting effects and change the balance of power in the NFL. Here's a major salary-cap or contract question facing each NFC team this off-season.

Arizona Cardinals

Will Larry Fitzgerald finish his career in Arizona?

The Cardinals and Fitzgerald are aware that his contract needs to be addressed. Fitzgerald has the NFL's fourth-highest 2015 salary cap number at $23.6 million while the Cardinals have the second-most 2015 cap commitments at slightly over $151 million, which factors in approximately $4.25 million of carryover cap room from 2014.

The situation will likely come to a head before Fitzgerald's 2015 roster bonus ($8 million) is payable on the fifth day of the league year (March 14). Although it is Arizona's preference for Fitzgerald to eventually retire with the team, the eight-time Pro Bowl selection's performance no longer warrants him being paid like an elite wide receiver. Fitzgerald, who signed a seven-year, $113 million contract extension in 2011, is scheduled to earn $16.25 million in 2015. The Cardinals will pick up $9.2 million of cap room if Fitzgerald is traded or released.

Atlanta Falcons

Will Falcons find a pass rush?

Atlanta's inability to consistently put pressure on opposing quarterbacks has been a glaring weakness in recent years. The team has ranked in the bottom five of the NFL in sacks during each of the past three seasons. In 2014, the Falcons tied for 30th with 22 sacks. Five of the sacks came in a Week 16 contest against the New Orleans Saints.

Defensive ends Kroy Biermann, who had a team leading 4½ sacks, and Osi Umenyiora are unrestricted free agents. The Falcons shouldn't be in a rush to bring them back.

Two pass rushers who should be available in free agency with ties to the coaching staff are Brian Orakpo and Jabaal Sheard. Although on the other side of the ball, both players have a connection to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who held the same position with the Cleveland Browns in 2014. Familiarity can bring comfort in free agency.

Orakpo, who is recovering from the third torn pectoral muscle of his career, posted 10 sacks during 2013 in Shanahan's last season as the Washington Redskins' offensive coordinator before receiving the team's franchise tag. It would be a shock if the Redskins franchised him for a second time at $13.746 million. He has been a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL but shouldn't have a problem making a transition to the 4-3 scheme head coach Dan Quinn prefers after being a defensive end in college at Texas.

Jabaal Sheard didn't have the breakout season in 2014 with the Browns some expected but would likely be a cheaper option than Orakpo. Despite an injury-plagued and ineffective 2014 season, Orakpo might still view himself as a $10 million per year player.

Will the Falcons take a chance on Greg Hardy?  (Getty Images)
Will the Falcons take a chance on Greg Hardy? (Getty Images)

Jason Pierre-Paul could be a possibility if the New York Giants don't franchise him. If Pierre-Paul is free, he is expected to seek a deal near the top of the defensive end market (in excess of $14 million per year with over $40 million in guarantees).

Whether Falcons owner Arthur Blank would be willing to take a chance on All-Pro Greg Hardy despite his baggage remains to be seen.

Another option could be Baltimore Ravens defensive end/outside linebacker Pernell McPhee. He ranked third in the NFL among edge rushers for the 2014 season in Pro Football Focus' (PFF) pass rushing productivity metric, which measures quarterback pressure (sacks, quarterback hurries and quarterback hits) created on a per-snap basis. The five-year, $40.5 million contract (including $20 million guaranteed) former teammate Paul Kruger signed with the Cleveland Browns in 2013 could be an important salary benchmark for McPhee.

One player the Falcons do not have a chance of signing is 2014 NFL sack leader Justin Houston. The outside linebacker isn't going to hit the open market. He will get Kansas City's franchise tag if he doesn't sign a long-term deal by the end of the designation period on March 2.

Carolina Panthers

What's next for Greg Hardy?

The domestic violence charges against defensive end Greg Hardy were dismissed because the alleged victim refused to cooperate with the prosecution. The Charlotte District Attorney's office believes her unavailability stemmed from a settlement of her civil suit against Hardy.

The 2013 All-Pro played in only one game for the Carolina Panthers in 2014 after receiving a $13.116 million franchise tag. He was inactive for the second week of the season, and then agreed to be placed on the Exempt/Commissioner's Permission List for the rest of the season with full pay.

The Panthers are expected to move on from Hardy, even though he avoided a domestic violence conviction in a jury trial and the Panthers dropped from a league-leading 60 sacks in 2013 with him to a tie for 13th (40) without him. The lack of a conviction could clear the way for Greg Hardy to potentially land a big payday in free agency. A 26-year-old pass rusher without any character concerns capable of getting 15 sacks in a season would be able to command a contract averaging at least $15 million per year on the open market. The Atlanta Falcons, Cincinnati Bengals, Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders have the biggest need for a pass rusher among teams with a 4-3 defensive scheme. Some teams might steer clear of Hardy because of his baggage.

Hardy's status with the NFL hasn't changed. He remains on the Exempt/Commissioner's Permission List while the NFL reviews his situation. Hardy still could be subject to discipline under the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy. A Mecklenburg County judge found Hardy guilty of these same domestic violence charges last July. As required by North Carolina law because of Hardy's appeal for a jury trial, the conviction was set aside. The NFL's discipline of Minnesota Vikingsrunning back Adrian Peterson demonstrates that a paid leave of absence isn't considered as punishment.

Hardy's case was originally decided before the new domestic violence guidelines with a baseline six-game suspension were implemented. Ideally, Hardy's status is clarified before free agency begins on March 10 regardless of whether any discipline falls under the old or new personal conduct guidelines.

Chicago Bears

Is Jay Cutler the starting quarterback?

It was presumed Cutler would be the Bears' quarterback for the foreseeable future when he signed a seven-year, $126.7 million deal within days of the 2013 regular season ending. Everything changed with head coach Marc Trestman benching Cutler late last season. Cutler's mediocre performances played a part in Trestman and general manager Phil Emery losing their jobs.

Cutler could get another chance under the new regime of head coach John Fox and general manager Ryan Pace. It might be more because of Cutler's contract than their belief in him. Cutler's 2015 base salary ($15.5 million) is already fully guaranteed. $10 million of his 2016 base salary ($16 million) becomes fully guaranteed on the third of the 2015 league year (March 12).

Cutler's 2015 cap number is $16.5 million. If the Bears decide to move on from Cutler, releasing him before the 2016 guarantee kicks in on March 12 will result in $19.5 million of dead money (a cap charge for a player no longer on a team's roster). Since Cutler's guarantees have offset provisions, the Bears would be able to reduce the guaranteed money owed to him by the amount of his new deal with another team. The cap relief wouldn't occur until 2016.

Is Jay Cutler finished in Chicago?  (Getty Images)
Is Jay Cutler finished in Chicago? (Getty Images)

Before releasing Cutler, the Bears would attempt to trade him. From a cap standpoint, trading Cutler is preferable because the Bears would pick up $12.5 million of 2015 cap room. There would be a $4 million cap charge for the Bears from the signing bonus proration in Cutler's 2016 through 2018 contract years accelerating onto the 2015 cap.

The trading period for 2015 begins when free agency starts on March 10. If the Bears want to trade Cutler, they have to do it before the March 12 salary guarantee date.

The Bears won't be able to get anything comparable to the two second-round picks the San Francisco 49ers received from the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013 for Alex Smith in a Cutler trade should they choose to go this route. He should be worth more than the sixth-round pick the Oakland Raiders sent the Houston Texans to acquire Matt Schaublast offseason. A team must have enough cap room to absorb a player's salary, which is $15.5 million for Cutler, in order to make a trade. Once the player is acquired, then the team can restructure his contract to decrease his cap number.

Dallas Cowboys

Will Jerry Jones open up his checkbook?

A majority of the NFL front office executives I've spoken to, most of whom negotiate contracts for their respective teams, aren't convinced Jones is going to tighten his purse strings with player contracts since he finally has a legitimate championship contender. His comments about being prudent with the salary cap are largely viewed by the executives as a negotiation tactic or posturing in an attempt to diminish the salary expectations of the team's impending free agents in order to get better deals.

This is because Jones desperately wants to win a Super Bowl without Jimmy Johnson's fingerprints on it, and there might not be an extended championship window with Tony Romo as quarterback. Although Romo, whose contract runs through the 2019 season, arguably had the best season of his career in 2014, he will be 35 years old in April and has had back surgery in each of the past two years.

The consensus among the executives is that Jones will take the same credit card approach to the salary cap that he has in the past to keep the team largely intact by restructuring contracts to create cap room. The Cowboys gained $8.4 million of cap space when they declined to pick up the option on defensive tackle Henry Melton's contract. Almost $21 million of cap room can be freed up by restructuring Tony Romo's and offensive tackle Tyron Smith's contracts.

If the executives are wrong and Jones exercises fiscal restraint, wide receiver Dez Bryant could play the 2015 season under a franchise tag and running back DeMarco Murraywill be allowed to leave in free agency. Jones has indicated he is prepared to use the team's franchise tag on Bryant if necessary. The 2015 wide receiver franchise tag should be $12.708 million (assuming a $142 million salary cap).

Detroit Lions

Will Ndamukong Suh re-sign with the Lions?

Lions president Tom Lewand has expressed optimism the team would re-sign Suh before the start of free agency. This was somewhat of a surprise because Suh said late in the 2014 season he was going to let his agent Jimmy Sexton pick his next team, which suggests he is going to the highest bidder. Suh is expected to look for a deal exceeding the six-year contract extension 2014 NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt signed with Houston Texans last September, which pays him $16,666,667 per year and contains a defensive player record $51,876,385 in guarantees, which made him the NFL's highest paid non-quarterback (by average yearly salary).

Ndamukong Suh wants to be the highest-paid player in the NFL.  (Getty Images)
Ndamukong Suh wants to be the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL. (Getty Images)

The Lions putting a franchise tag on Suh is an option, according to general manager Martin Mayhew, even though it would be cost prohibitive. Suh's franchise tag number would be $26.87 million, which is 120 percent of his 2014 cap number ($22,412,500). It would be the largest franchise tag number in NFL history. Peyton Manning's $23.12 million franchise tag in 2011 with the Indianapolis Colts is currently the record. The largest for a non-quarterback is the $18.183 million tag the Carolina Panthers placed on defensive end Julius Peppers in 2009. Since Suh's number would be the same whether it's the exclusive or non-exclusive version, the Lions would probably opt for the exclusive version to prevent him from negotiating with other teams.

The Lions would need to restructure contracts or release players to accommodate Suh's franchise tag because the team has approximately $17.5 million of cap room (assuming a $142 million salary cap in 2015). Suh's franchise tag would not come at Calvin Johnson's expense. Although the four-time All-Pro wide receiver has a 2015 cap number of $20.558 million, the Lions would have a $20.979 million cap charge in 2015 if he were released without post-June 1 treatment.

Green Bay Packers

Will the Packers pay two wide receivers?

Wide receiver Randall Cobb, who hopes to re-sign with the Packers but is reportedly seeking $9M a year, should be the top priority among the team's 11 impending unrestricted free agents. The 2011 second-round pick had a career year in 2014 with 91 receptions, 1,287 receiving yards and 12 touchdown catches. Cobb will be one of the top wide receivers available in free agency since Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant are expected to receive franchise tags if they haven't already signed new contracts. 

$9 million seems reasonable for Cobb given the average value of Victor Cruz's five unrestricted free agent years in the contract he signed in 2013 as a restricted free agent is $8.6 million per year. He is the NFL's highest-paid slot receiver if Percy Harvin's outlier deal ($12,843,500 per year) is excluded.

It's unusual for NFL teams to have two wide receivers with big salaries. Only the Washington Redskins and New York Jets have two wide receivers with deals averaging over $7 million per year. Jordy Nelson signed a four-year, $39.05 million extension during the initial days of training camp last season. Green Bay becoming the third club is a distinct possibility because the team doesn't have a high-priced tight end anymore. Jermichael Finley's two-year, $14 million deal expired after the 2013 season.

Cobb must overcome being viewed as strictly a slot wide receiver if he hits the open market. This might be a difficult task because 87.6 percent of the routes (1,055 of 1,205) Cobb has run since 2012 have been from the slot according to PFF. 

Minnesota Vikings

What happens with Adrian Peterson?

The Vikings ownership, front office and coaching staff, including newly-promoted chief operating officer Kevin Warren, are on the same page in expressing public support of the suspended Peterson returning to the team in 2015. Warren was reportedly working behind the scenes to keep Peterson off the field for the rest of the 2014 season after he went on the Exempt/Commissioner's Permission List because of child abuse charges.

The Vikings want Adrian Peterson back, but at what price?  (Getty Images)
The Vikings want Adrian Peterson back, but at what price? (Getty Images)

The Vikings wanting Peterson back, and wanting him to play the 2015 season for $13 million with a $15.4 million cap number are probably different things. There was skepticism of Peterson playing the 2015 season with the Vikings at 30 years old under his six-year, $85.28 million contract extension (with a 2017 base salary escalator worth up to $4 million) before his legal troubles, because the deal doesn't bear any relation to the rest of the running back market. He is the NFL's only $10-million per year running back.

Arguments in the NFLPA's lawsuit on behalf of Peterson against the NFL asking for immediate reinstatement from his suspension were heard by U.S. District Court Judge David S. Doty on Feb. 6. Peterson is currently eligible for reinstatement April 15. There isn't a set timetable for Doty to make a ruling.Peterson has said that a change of scenery might be best. Finding a trade partner seems unlikely given Peterson has such an exorbitant salary for a running back. This suggests he might be more receptive to playing for less with another team after he is reinstated by commissioner Roger Goodell. The Vikings would pick up $13 million of cap room by releasing or trading Peterson. The 2012 NFL MVP has expressed an interest in playing for the Dallas Cowboys before retiring.

New Orleans Saints

How will the Saints get under the salary cap?

The Saints are approximately $23 million over the 2015 salary cap (if it's set at $142 million). Restructuring the contracts of safety Jairus Byrd (2015 cap number: $10.3 million), outside linebacker Junior Galette ($15.45 million cap number), tight end Jimmy Graham ($11 million cap number) and inside linebacker Curtis Lofton ($9.25 million cap number) could wipe out the overage. Slightly over $23.5 million of cap room can be gained by converting a significant portion of their salaries into signing bonus.

Other moves would still need to be made for the Saints to sign free agents. The Saints have two of the NFL's four highest-paid guards in Jahri Evans ($8.1 million per year, $11 million 2015 cap number) and Ben Grubbs ($7.2 million per year, $9.6 million 2015 salary cap number). In 2014, neither played to the level that earned Evans All-Pro honors and Grubbs a Pro Bowl berth in 2013, which makes them candidates for a pay cut or outright release.

Wide receiver Marques Colston is open to a pay cut to reduce his 2015 cap number ($9.7 million) and $7 million 2015 salary. The 31-year-old had the worst season of his nine-year NFL career in 2014. Inside linebacker David Hawthornecould also find himself on the chopping block before his $2.5 million roster bonus is payable on the third day of the 2015 league year (March 12). Releasing him would free up $2.99 million of cap space.

New York Giants

Will Jason Pierre-Paul get franchised?

During the final month of the 2014 season, the defensive end reminded everyone of the player who notched 16.5 sacks in 2011 and made himself one of the top players who could be available in free agency. He had 33 quarterback pressures (combined sacks, quarterback hurries and quarterback hits) in December. NFL sack leader Justin Houston had 36 pressures during the month.

Early in the 2014 regular season, defensive end Robert Quinn signed a four-year contract extension with the St. Louis Rams averaging $14,253,724 annually and containing $41,171,774 in guarantees. That deal could be Pierre-Paul's target. The Giants can prevent Pierre-Paul from hitting the open market by using their franchise tag on him but historically haven't done so. The defensive end franchise tag should be $14.681 million if the salary cap is $142 million.

Eli Manning, who is entering the final year of contract, could be the beneficiary of Pierre-Paul getting franchised. It could make the Giants more receptive to lowering his $19.75 million cap number through an extension, since the franchise tag would take up most of the team's $18 million of cap space.

Philadelphia Eagles

Will Jeremy Maclin re-sign with the Eagles?

Maclin signed a one-year deal worth $6 million in 2014 after a preseason ACL tear cost him the 2013 season. His bet on himself paid off. Maclin had a career year of 85 receptions, 1,318 receiving yards and 10 touchdown catches in 2014. Maclin's preference is to remain with the Eagles. Based on DeSean Jackson's 2012 contract, the Eagles have established a value of $9.7 million per year for a No. 1 wide receiver.

If the Eagles drag their feet with Maclin, one team to keep an eye on is the Kansas City Chiefs, who are led by former Eagles head coach Andy Reid. The Chiefs desperately need to upgrade at wide receiver. None of Kansas City's 18 touchdown passes was caught by a wide receiver.

St. Louis Rams

Will Sam Bradford take a pay cut?

Conventional wisdom suggested that the only way Bradford would return to the Rams in 2015 after missing the entire 2014 season because of a torn ACL in his left knee (for the second successive year) was with a significant pay cut from his $12.985 million salary ($16.58 million cap number). This was before head coach Jeff Fisher consulted Bradford on Frank Cignetti's promotion from quarterback coach to offensive coordinator. It now appears as if Bradford will open the 2015 regular season as the Rams' starting quarterback, barring another injury or a terrible preseason.

Can Sam Bradford finally put his injury woes behind him?  (Getty Images)
Can Sam Bradford finally put his injury woes behind him? (Getty Images)

Soliciting Bradford's input on hiring the new offensive coordinator undercuts any leverage the Rams had to get him to reduce his salary. It should also put to rest the rumors about the team's interest in acquiring quarterback Nick Folesfrom the Philadelphia Eagles once the trading period begins on March 10.

San Francisco 49ers

Can the 49ers hold on to Mike Iupati?

Putting a franchise tag on left guard Mike Iupati at $12.828 million (assuming a $142 million salary cap) seems unlikely given the 49ers' cap woes. The 49ers are expected to have less than $3.5 million cap room.

Iupati could price himself out of San Francisco by looking to become one of the NFL's highest paid guards. Andy Levitre's six-year, $46.8 million contract (includes $16 million guaranteed) with the Tennessee Titans could be an important data point for the two-time All-Pro.

He could be a good fit with the Washington Redskins because hiring Bill Callahan as offensive line coach could mean a shift to more of a power blocking scheme. New Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan also has familiarity with Iupati. He was heavily involved in San Francisco's draft preparations before his departure as general manager in 2010, a month before the team took Iupati with the 17th overall pick.

The Buffalo Billsalso might have interest in Iupati because of the presence of offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who was San Francisco's offensive coordinator from 2011 through 2014. Iupati could fill the void at left guard created by Levitre's departure during free agency in 2013.

Seattle Seahawks

Was Super Bowl 49 Marshawn Lynch's last game with the Seahawks?

A contract extension for Lynch, who is entering the final year of a four-year contract with a base value of $30 million, reportedly is on the table. The soon-to-be-29-year-old isn't showing any signs of slowing down. He led the NFL in rushing touchdowns (13) and total touchdowns (17), both career highs, during the 2014 season. Lynch was fourth in the NFL in rushing with 1,306 yards and fifth in yards from scrimmage (1,673 yards), which were both the second highest single-season totals of his career. He also had a career-best 367 receiving yards. A short-term extension should give the Seahawks some cap relief from his 2015 cap number ($8.5 million).

Of course, anything is possible with the enigmatic Lynch. He could sign an extension so the Seahawks would be in the best position for a third consecutive trip to the Super Bowl. Lynch attempting to force a trade to his hometown Oakland Raiders, who have an abundance of cap room, wouldn't be a surprise, either. It's also conceivable Lynch could retire. The Seahawks would pick up $7 million of cap space by Lynch's salary coming off the books if he ended his football career prematurely.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Are Vincent Jackson's days numbered in Tampa?

2014 seventh overall pick Mike Evansemerging as a primary receiving threat could make Jackson, who is scheduled to earn $19,555,555 during the next two years, a luxury -- not a necessity -- in Tampa. The Philadelphia Eagles reportedly tried to pry the three-time Pro Bowl selection away before last season's trading deadline. He could be on a trading block again in the offseason. The Buccaneers would realize $7,345,777 of cap savings by moving Jackson.

Washington Redskins

Does Robert Griffin III have a future in Washington?

2014 was a challenging season for Griffin. He missed six games with a dislocated left ankle, and first-year head coach Jay Gruden benched him for Colt McCoy because of his struggles in making the transition to more of a pocket passer. Griffin didn't resemble the player who was named the 2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

The 2012 second overall pick is entering the final year of his four-year, $21,119,098 rookie contract. His 2015 salary ($3,269,877) is fully guaranteed without an offset.

New general manager Scot McCloughan believes it's too soon to give up on Griffin. It remains to be seen whether he'll be Washington's starting quarterback when the 2015 season begins.Washington has until May 3 to exercise an option for a fifth contract year in 2016 with Griffin. The fifth year is guaranteed for injury when the option is exercised. It becomes fully guaranteed on the first day of the league year in the fifth contract year (approximately March 9, 2016, for 2012 first-round picks). Griffin's option-year salary would be the 2015 transition tender (average of the 10 highest-salaried quarterbacks). It should be between $15.5 million and $16 million, depending on where the 2015 salary cap is set.

Expect the Redskins to take the same wait-and-see approach the Tennessee Titans took with 2011 eighth overall pick Jake Locker. The Titans declined a 2015 fifth-year option for $14.666 million, even though Locker wasn't in jeopardy of losing his starting job. If Griffin is the starter and has a bounceback year, the Redskins could still use a franchise tag on him in 2016. The non-exclusive quarterback franchise tag for 2016 currently projects to approximately $19.3 million (assuming $142 million and $150 million salary caps for 2015 and 2016).

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Before his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can follow him on Twitter: @corryjoel | You can email him at